Wednesday, June 22, 2022

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Latest Half-Dozen Posts (Full Text)

The Day Democracy Died

Listening to Washington and McLean
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, June 22, 2022, p. A6

George Washington warned his “Friends and Fellow-Citizens” there could be days like this in his farewell address of September 19, 1796. Political parties could become “potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled . . . to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
[Photo credit: wikimedia commons; Gilbert Stuart painting.]

Individuals may then “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction . . . turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

“[L]et there be no change by usurpation; . . . it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

Are you old enough to remember the lyrics to Don McLean’s song, “American Pie,” about “the day the music died”?

It will be nothing to sing about, but we’re headed toward “the day democracy died.” Some say it’s already dead. “The day democracy died” was January 6, 2021.

It’s more complicated than that.

Like preparing your garden soil in the spring, a democracy can only grow in a nation with, one, a civil society of non-governmental and non-business organizations – from Rotary Clubs to garden clubs, trade unions to Wordle groups. And, two, people who understand and reject authoritarian rule, and affirmatively seek democracy (as we discovered after 20 unsuccessful years in Afghanistan).

The first was found in America by de Tocqueville and published in 1835 in his “Democracy in America.”

The second was made clear by Thomas Jefferson in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, listing and charging the “King of Great Britain [with] a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.“

Many components, properly assembled and maintained, can become a car. Similarly, a democracy only emerges with the assembly and maintenance of components. A non-political, respected judiciary. A trusted electoral system, expanding participants and easing voting.

Thomas Jefferson considered independent media so essential to democracy that choosing “government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

George Washington thought education a component. “In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”

How to destroy a democracy? As the Nazi Hermann Goering explained, “it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship . . .. It works the same in any country.”

The authoritarian’s playbook isn’t complicated. You destroy the public’s trust in its democratic institutions. Promote divisiveness, fear and anger. Repeat “the big lie” until it’s believed by the faithful. Convince the public the media is “the enemy of the people.”

Or, as in Iowa currently, you attack the public education system, prescribe the books and subjects that can and can’t be taught, reduce the appropriations, demonize the teachers.

It works the same in any country. Including ours. Just like George Washington warned us.
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Nicholas Johnson is the author of Columns of Democracy. Website: nicholasjohnson.org Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org
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SOURCES

Washington’s Farewell Address. “Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States,” Sept. 19, 1796, U.S. Senate, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/Washingtons_Farewell_Address.pdf

“[A]void the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” p. 8

“However combinations or associations . . . may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely . . . to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” p. 12

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state . . .. Let me now . . . warn you . . . against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally. This spirit . . . exists under different shapes in all governments, . . . but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension [and] the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries . . . gradually incline . . . men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.” pp. 13-14

“[L]et there be no change by usurpation; . . . it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” p. 16

“But if I may even flatter myself that they [these words] may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good, that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism -- this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.” (italics added) p. 24

Other:

“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
. . .
“avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.” p. 17

The day the music died. Lyrics to Don McLean’s song, “American Pie.” Don McLean, “American Pie (Full Length Version),” Lyrics, https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/14026136/American+Pie+%28Full+Length+Version%29

January 6, 2021. Nicholas Fandos and Emily Cochrane, “After Pro-Trump Mob Storms Capitol, Congress Confirms Biden’s Win; A normally ceremonial ritual in Congress exploded into chaos as protesters, egged on by President Trump, forced their way into the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes to confirm President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory,” New York Times, January 7, 2021, p. A1, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/us/politics/congress-gop-subvert-election.html

Peter Baker, “A Mob and the Breach of Democracy: The Violent End of the Trump Era; Those who warned of worst-case scenarios under President Trump — only to be dismissed as alarmists — found some of their darkest fears realized in the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday,” New York Times, January 7, 2021, p. A1, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/us/politics/trump-congress.html

Democracy in America. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. II, Sec. 2 (See headings, “Of the Uses which the Americans Make of Public Associations; Of the Relation of Public Associations and the Newspapers; Relation of Civil to Political Associations”), 1835, https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/toc_indx.html.

Declaration of Independence. “Declaration of Independence: A Transcription,” America’s Founding Documents, National Archives, July 4, 1776, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

Newspapers without government. Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, Paris Jan. 16. 1787 (“the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. but I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”) “Jefferson Quotes & Family Letters,” Monticello, https://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/1289

Washington on education (public enlightenment). “Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” Washington Farewell Address, supra, p. 17

Hermann Goering, “the same in every country.” "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." Nazi Germany’s Hermann Goering in 1946. [Accuracy confirmed, and source identified at: David Mikkelson, “Did a Nazi Leader Say Convincing People to Support War is ‘Simple’? Nazi Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering was one of the highest-ranking Nazis who survived to be captured and put on trial for war crimes,” Snopes, Oct. 4, 2002, http://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.htm; or https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/war-games/

Trump, media “the enemy of the people.” Brett Samuels, “Trump ramps up rhetoric on media, calls press ‘the enemy of the people,’” The Hill, April 5, 2019, https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/437610-trump-calls-press-the-enemy-of-the-people/ (“The press is doing everything within their power to fight the magnificence of the phrase, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! They can’t stand the fact that this Administration has done more than virtually any other Administration in its first 2yrs. They are truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 5, 2019”

The Big Lie. “the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X, “Joseph Goebbels: On the ‘Big Lie,’” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quot; see also, Ralph Manheim translation, Sentry Edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1943, pp. 231-232.

Attacks on public education. Todd Dorman, “Iowa Lawmakers should try transparency before they impose it on teachers,” The Gazette, March 20, 2022, https://www.thegazette.com/staff-columnists/iowa-lawmakers-should-try-transparency-before-they-impose-it-on-teachers/ (“Among the most stringent concepts being considered are provisions that would require teachers to post all of their course materials online, from book titles and articles to videos and online links to materials, twice during the school year, in August and January. School districts that violate the rules could have their state funding docked for each day of non-compliance. Wanted: Clairvoyant social studies teachers capable of predicting how world and national events might affect their curriculum.”)

Ty Rushing, “Fed Up: How Educators in Kim Reynolds’ Iowa Feel After Nonstop GOP Attacks,” Iowa Starting Line, March 4, 2022, https://iowastartingline.com/2022/03/04/fed-up-how-educators-in-kim-reynolds-iowa-feel-after-nonstop-gop-attacks/ (“There were more than 50 education bills introduced during this year’s Iowa legislative session, including proposals to place surveillance cameras in public school classrooms, ban books, jail teachers, and take funding away from public schools to support private institutions.

Republican lawmakers, who have introduced the bulk of these policies, have done so under the guises of “transparency” and “parental choice” to prohibit teachers from enacting a “sinister agenda,” as Senate President Jake Chapman phrased it on the opening day of the legislative session. Gov. Kim Reynolds has devoted much of her attention and agenda on school-related bills in recent months.

The rhetoric and policies have weighed heavily on Iowa educators this year.

‘The attacks on teachers and discussions of jail time and cameras is absolute insanity. Teachers are being singled out and disrespected. We are simply trying our best to care for kids and help them learn,’ said Salley Wieland, a Des Moines special education teacher.

‘We are educated professionals who have the ability to put our skills to use outside the classroom; many teachers have said they are leaving. I will not be returning.’”)

Bruce Lear, “A Storm’s Coming. It’s Time to Act,” Bleeding Heartland, Feb. 4, 2022, https://www.bleedingheartland.com/2022/02/04/a-storms-coming-its-time-to-act/ (“Here’s just some of the intensity of this storm.

First, Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman vowed to pass a law to jail educators who make books, he considers pornographic available to students. He opened the 2022 legislative session by accusing Iowa teachers of having a “sinister agenda” to harm children.

Now, he’s made good on his bullying by introducing Senate File 2198, which makes it a serious misdemeanor to knowingly distribute obscene material in school. The bill also allows a parent or guardian to sue the school for civil damages.

Chapman isn’t the only bully. In her Condition of the State address, Governor Kim Reynolds suggested Iowa public school libraries were full of dirty books that would be X-rated if they were movies. Later she proposed that all classroom syllabuses and library books be published online for parents to review.

. . .

To one up Reynolds and Chapman, Republican State Representative Norlin Mommsen introduced House File 2177. His bill would require a live feed in every Iowa public school classroom, so parents can see in real time whether teachers are corrupting the youth. Another unfunded mandate. But what about most parents, who don’t want their children on camera?”)

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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Happy Father of Our Country's Day

How George Washington Warned Us About Trump

In George “Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States,” 1796, he warned us there would be days like this, times when someone like Donald Trump would get ahold of the playbook: "How to Become an Authoritarian Dictator for Dummies."
“Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States,” Sept. 19, 1796, U.S. Senate, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/Washingtons_Farewell_Address.pdf

[Photo credit: wikimedia commons; Gilbert Stuart, 1795.]

Here are some relevant quotes.
“[A]void the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” p. 8

“However combinations or associations [that is, political parties] . . . may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely . . . to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” p. 12

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state . . .. Let me now . . . warn you . . . against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally. This spirit . . . exists under different shapes in all governments, . . . but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy. The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension [and] the most horrid enormities, is itself afrightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries . . . gradually incline . . . men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.” pp. 13-14

“[L]et there be no change by usurpation; . . . it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” p. 16

“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” . . . “avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.” p. 17

“that they [the words in this address] may now and then . . . guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism” p. 24

And while we're in the mood, a reminder of what all U.S. Senate and House members swear to abide when taking their oath of office. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic . . .."
“Oath of Office,” U.S. Senate, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Oath_Office.htm

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Sunday, June 05, 2022

Iowa's Rising Tide Lifts Yachts

"A rising tide lifts all boats"? Not in Iowa. Not according to the Board of Regents. Apparently they think it's too stressful to ask a University of Iowa president to try to survive on $600,000 a year (plus free housing, numerous other benefits, and little going away gifts that can approach $1 million or more when they finally leave for a better offer elsewhere).

So they decided to give her a little $50,000 raise.

Not incidentally, $50,000 is more than the median total annual income of Iowa men and women ($46,375)


Compare this with class act David Skorton who, when asked if he was leaving because the Regents failed to raise his pay replied, not at all, "in a state in which the median income is in the $40,000 range, a salary of $300,000-plus is really 'quite generous.'" [Photo: wikimedia commons; Dave Skorton]

I appreciate this is going on throughout America's universities, and even more outrageous with football coaches and assistant coaches, but I think it is both unnecessary and especially offensive when students are struggling with paying off significant loans for rising tuition.

When I was running in a Democratic primary for U.S. House, I promised constituents I would live on whatever was the median income for Iowans. Can't we at least agree that Iowa's state university presidents total income should not exceed TEN TIMES the average Iowan's income? Isn't $400,000 to $500,000 a year enough to live comfortably in Ames or Iowa City?

No, in Iowa a rising tide does not lift all the boats -- just the yachts.


University of Iowa's Old Capitol, where the gold only goes to, and stays at, the top. [Photo credit: wikimedia commons, Tony Webster, Minneapolis.]

SOURCES


Vanessa Miller, "Regents Approve 8.3% Raises for UI, ISU Presidents," The Gazette, June 3, 2022, p. A1, https://www.thegazette.com/higher-education/university-of-iowa-president-barbara-wilson-and-iowa-state-university-president-wendy-wintersteen-re/

For Iowa median salaries, Iowa State Data Center, https://www.iowadatacenter.org/quickfacts

David Skorton quote, contained within "UI President Search XVIII - Dec. 26-31," Dec. 26, 2006, https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2006/

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Tags: #IowaStateUniversity, #IowaStateUniversties, #UniversityOfIowa, #UniversityPresidentsSalaries, #studentloans

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Candidates Are Fundraisers Not Legislators

Candidates Are Fundraisers Not Legislators
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, June 2, 2022, p. A4

Imagine you decide to run for the U.S. House or Senate. Play along with me now.

The first day after your announcement could you raise, as a Democrat, $6849 from your relatives and friends (Senate; or $2778 for a House race)? Might be a stretch, but possible?

Now imagine I tell you that it’s not just for one day. It’s that average every day for six years (Senate) or two years (House). That’s seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Slack off and it’s more per day.


The average total cost for a Democrat’s Senate race is $15 million; $2 million for the House. The top ten Senate races in 2020 ranged from $180 million (Kentucky) to $299 million (North Carolina). It’s even more for Republicans. The combined cost of Iowa’s 2020 U.S. Senate race was $262 million. All for a job that pays $174,000 a year. [Photo source: wikimedia commons.]

If you win, your profession becomes fund raiser, not legislator. Finding thousands of dollars every day can take half an average Senator or House member’s time.

You lunch with one of your “major donors” who requests “a little favor.” Do you spit in their eye? No. As Molly Ivins’ titled a book, “You got to dance with them what brung you.”

This is no “ten cents a dance.”

Major donors’ contributions aren’t your supporters’ “donations,” they’re investments. Investments that return many multiples more than the stock market ever did.

Curious about an industry’s return on this “investment”? I researched it many years ago. It may be worse now. It was then between 1,000 and 2,000 to one. Contribute $1 million, get a return in exchange valued at $1 billion (or more). Examples included industries in milk, mining, timber, real estate, and individual companies like ADM, UPS and Gallo.

The returns can take many forms, such as tax breaks, government contracts, subsidies, tariffs, or access to public lands. It may be the defeat of popular progressive legislation that would have reduced corporate profits by that much, such as restrictions on gun sales, or radical reductions in pharmaceutical prices.

Who pays? We do, either as taxpayers (it’s our money) or as consumers (think milk and gas prices). As Simon and Garfunkel told Mrs. Robinson, “When you've got to choose/Every way you look at this, you lose.”

Are there alternatives? Yes; though House and Senate support is unlikely.
  • Public financing of campaigns might cost one percent of what we now pay.
  • Reduce the weeks of campaigning.
  • Broadcast time averages 50% of campaigns’ budgets. Free time for candidates is fair exchange for use of “the public’s airwaves.” Or, like Norway, ban political broadcast ads.
  • Overturn Citizens United. Millions in dark money isn’t the equivalent of what the founders called “speech.”
  • And many more ideas since the Tillman Act of 1907.
But until we’re able to turn our fundraisers and cult followers into legislators, Lincoln’s 159-year-old prayer for a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will continue to be beyond our grasp.

Nicholas Johnson has been involved in campaigns from the presidency to school boards for nearly 70 years. Website nicholasjohnson.org. Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

SOURCES
Costs of elections.

Ally J. Levine and Minami Funakoshi, “2020 U.S. Senate Races,” Reuters, Nov. 24, 2020, https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/SENATE-FUNDRAISING/yxmvjeyjkpr/ (“The 2020 U.S. election cost nearly $14 billion . . ..”)

“Open Secrets,” https://www.opensecrets.org/

Eliana Miller, “Nine of the 10 most expensive Senate races of all time happened in 2020,” December 9, 2020, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/12/most-expensive-races-of-all-time-senate2020/
Iowa’s 2020 U.S. Senate race; candidates spent $262 million Range for top ten races: $180 million (Kentucky) to $299 million (North Carolina)
Karl Evers-Hillstrom, “State of Money in Politics: The price of victory is steep,” Feb. 19, 2019, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/02/state-of-money-in-politics-the-price-of-victory-is-steep/
(“Average Price of Victory (2018),
Senate Democrats (22) $15 M ($6849/day)
Senate Republicans (11) $19M ($8676/day)
House Democrats (235) $2M ($2778/day)
House Republicans (199) $2M ($2778/day)
Days in six-year term (365 x 6) 2190; x2 720

$174,000 salary. “Senate Salaries (1789 to Present),” https://www.senate.gov/senators/SenateSalariesSince1789.htm

Time spent by Senators/House Members raising money

Brent Ferguson, “Congressional Disclosure of Time Spent Fundraising,” Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, vol. 23, Issue 1Fall 2013, https://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1390&context=cjlpp

Stacey Selleck, “CONGRESS SPENDS MORE TIME DIALING FOR DOLLARS THAN ON LEGISLATIVE WORK,” U.S. Term Limits, April 26, 2016, https://www.termlimits.com/congress-fundraising-priority/ (“Fundraising is big business in Washington, D.C. So big, in fact, that your newly elected Congressional representative is expected to spend half of his or her working hours dialing for dollars at a secret phone bank near Capitol Hill.”)

Tim Roemer, “Why Do Congressmen Spend Only Half Their Time Serving Us?” Newsweek, July 29, 2015, https://newsweek.com/why-do-congressmen-spend-only-half-their-time-serving-us-357995 (“How much of members' actual time is devoted to "dialing for dollars"? They are generally hard-working, honest, type A personalities, so in a typical 10-hour day, they might dedicate three hours. In election cycles during the heat of battle, it might escalate to more than half of their time. But it doesn't stop there. Members are now additionally "required" to raise money for "the party" and contribute to pools of funds at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC). As a member rises in seniority to committee chair or ranking member, their fundraising responsibilities multiply significantly. So just as they assume more jurisdiction, clout and a heavier legislative workload, they are simultaneously saddled with spending even more time raising even more money.”)

Amisa Ratliff, “The Congressional Fundraising Treadmill, July-September 2021,” Issue One, Oct. 24, 2021, https://issueone.org/articles/the-congressional-fundraising-treadmill-5-key-numbers-to-know-from-the-newest-house-and-senate-campaign-finance-filings/ (“Hours spent dialing for dollars are diverted away from lawmakers’ legislative and oversight responsibilities. The political parties reportedly suggest that members of Congress spend about 30 hours per week fundraising in the Republican and Democratic call centers across the street from the Capitol.”)

“You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You” is the title of one of Molly Ivins’ books.

“Ten Cents a Dance,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Cents_a_Dance_(1931_film)

“Dance Halls,” encyclopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dance-halls

The $1000-to-one return on contributions

Nicholas Johnson, “Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000,” Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2, https://www.nicholasjohnson.org/politics/general/campaign.html (with citations to 14 sources of support for assertions)

Either way you lose.

Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson,” Song Meanings, https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/7391/ “When you've got to choose/Every way you look at this, you lose”

Alternatives.

Reid Wilson, “US election spending exceeds GDP of numerous countries,” The Hill, Dec. 7, 2020, https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/529080-us-election-spending-exceeds-gdp-of-numerous-countries/ (“Americans spend more on politics and political campaigns than any other nation on Earth, and the 2020 election once again rewrote the fundraising record books. . . . The most expensive races attract more dollars than some small nations generate as their annual gross domestic product (GDP).”)

“Public Campaign Financing,” Brennan Center for Justice, https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/reform-money-politics/public-campaign-financing

Nick Thompson, “International campaign finance: How do countries compare?” CNN World, March 5, 2012, https://www.cnn.com/2012/01/24/world/global-campaign-finance/index.html
(“Norway Krishnan (Chandu Krishnan, executive director of TI UK), citing Scandinavia as a model, believes increased public funding would cut down party dependence on large donations and give the election system more credibility. In Norway, government funding accounted for 74% of political parties’ income in 2010, according to Statistics Norway. And unlike in the U.S. . . . political ads are banned from television and radio.”)
50% goes to TV/radio/media.

Marc Davis, “Where Presidential Candidates Get Campaign Funding,” Investopedia, Aug. 31, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1012/where-presidential-candidates-get-campaign-funding.aspx
(“How Money Is Spent “According to OpenSecrets.org, a release of data by the FEC showed that 48.9% (or $354.8 million) of donations go toward media advertisements, with administrative costs coming in second at 24.6%. Campaign expenses such as consulting, events, and surveys make up 12.8%, and 11.8% goes toward fundraising for donations. Less than 2% of expenditures are dedicated to loan payments, contribution refunds, parties, and miscellaneous costs.”)
Campaign Finance Reform

See generally, top 10 from Google search on: campaign finance reform (includes “Campaign Finance; We are building a democracy that works for all of us,” Common Cause, https://www.commoncause.org/our-work/money-influence/campaign-finance/)

The Tillman Act, 1907

"The Tillman Act of 1907," wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tillman_Act_of_1907

The Gettysburg Address.

“The Gettysburg Address,” Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Nov. 19, 1863, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/abli/learn/education/upload/updatedgettysburgaddress.pdf (“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”)

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Why Iowa Dems Should Back Franken

Click HERE for Nicholas Johnson, "Mike Franken is a Democrat with Statewide Appeal," Iowa City Press Citizen, May 18, 2022, p. A7.

Franken Experienced in D.C. Government
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, May 29, 2022, p. C2

I’ve often supported losing candidates whose utopian hopes aligned with mine. Everything being equal, I’ve chosen women candidates.

Today things aren’t equal.

Not this primary. Not among Iowa Democrats’ U.S. Senate choices. All Iowans will benefit from having a Democrat join our Republican. Plus, there’s much each senator can do for Iowa – whichever party controls the Senate.


For winning, the strongest candidate is former Admiral Mike Franken, hands down. He already knows Washington, with personal experience in the Senate, White House and Pentagon. His leadership skills have been recognized and rewarded. He will immediately have the respect of the other senators.
[Photo credit: "Franken for Iowa" Facebook page.]

Most important in winning, Franken was raised and shaped by Western Iowa.

Republican majorities carry 93 of our 99 counties. Democrats need a goal of a more statewide political party.

Based on my time in Ida County, and in north central Iowa during my 1974 congressional primary, Mike Franken’s demeanor, record, common sense, and ties to the people in small town western Iowa will help Iowa’s Democrats reach that goal.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

SOURCES

Franken’s “experience in the Senate, White House and Pentagon. His leadership skills have been recognized and rewarded.”

“In Washington, D.C., he served a fellowship in congressional affairs for the Office of the Secretary of the Navy; as the political-military chair in the Chief of Naval Operations' Executive Panel, in Navy's Plans and Strategy Deep Blue staff; in the Assessments Division in support of Navy's representation in the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and in the Joint Staff's Joint Operations Division overseeing U.S. Pacific Command operations. He presented the worldwide orders book to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 2003 to 2005 and was the first military officer to serve as a legislative fellow for Senator Ted Kennedy.[4]” “Michael T. Franken,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_T._Franken

“Franken earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree from the College of Physics at the Naval Postgraduate School and professional studies at MIT, UVA’s Darden School of Business, and the Brookings Institute.[1] Franken was a member of the U.S. Navy. He retired from military service as a three-star admiral in 2017.[1] Franken worked in a variety of positions in Washington, D.C. He was the first military officer on Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff. He also worked in the U.S. Department of Defense.” “Michael Franken,” BallotPedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Franken

“He saw sea duty in four navy destroyers, a destroyer squadron, and an aircraft carrier. He deployed frequently to the world’s hotspots and was the first commanding officer of the USS WINSTON S CHURCHILL. He has significant Pentagon experience beginning with a legislative tour with Senator Edward Kennedy, and then in multiple strategy, policy, and planning positions involving the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. In these uncertain times with our democracy under attack, Iowans need Admiral Mike Franken in the US Senate. Through his work in the US Navy and at the Pentagon, Mike knows the global challenge of Russian aggression, and the propaganda and disinformation tactics used by Vladmir Putin. . . . Michael Franken has dedicated his life to serving our country and doing what’s right. Franken was the only voice on a team of military advisers to oppose George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Franken served under President Barack Obama and oversaw numerous successful missions to protect our country including leading U.S. forces in Africa to fight terrorists and pirates.” Franken for Iowa, https://frankenforiowa.com/about/

“raised and shaped by Western Iowa.” “Franken was born the youngest of nine children in rural Sioux County, Iowa. His father was a machinist and blacksmith. His mother was a school teacher. He joined the navy at age 22 at the urging of an older brother.[9] In 1989, Franken married his wife Jordan. Together, they have two children.[10] Franken lives in downtown Sioux City, Iowa.” “Michael T. Franken,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_T._Franken

“Franken was born in Sioux County, Iowa. He was one of nine children. During his youth, Franken worked alongside his father at the Lebanon Farm Shop, working with farm equipment and trucks. When he was 17 years old, Franken began working at Sioux Preme Packing Company to pay for college. He also worked as bar manager, math tutor, bouncer, and as a law firm’s civil engineer.” “Michael Franken,” BallotPedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Franken

“Mike grew up working in his father’s small machine shop where he ran a lathe, did welding, and helped with general implement repair. He was a hired hand for neighboring farms until, at the age of 17, he began a three-year-stint working at a slaughterhouse in Sioux Center, Iowa. He obtained a Navy scholarship in 1978 and graduated in engineering from the University of Nebraska. . . . His life in Lebanon, Iowa has taught him the values of community, family, faith, and rural life, which guides his efforts to invest and build in rural Iowa. . . . As the father of a child with disabilities, he has seen how inconsistent care can be in years where he was transferred 17 different times. She would have great support in one community and the next there would be no support. For his daughter and for veterans who were injured, he seeks to pick up the banner of former Senator Tom Harkin as a disability advocate.” “Franken for Iowa,” https://frankenforiowa.com/about/

“Republican majorities carry 93 of our 99 counties.” Trump carried 93 of 99 Iowa counties in 2020. “Donald Trump Won in Iowa,” Politico, Jan. 6, 2021, https://www.politico.com/2020-election/results/iowa/

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Mike Franken is a Democrat with Statewide Appeal
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press Citizen, May 18, 2022, p. A7

I’ve often supported losing candidates whose utopian hopes align with mine. Everything being equal, I choose the woman candidate. But things aren’t equal.

Not this year, not with Iowa Democrats’ U.S. Senate primary choices. It’s too important that Iowa have one Democratic senator. There’s much they can do for Iowa, even if Republicans control the Senate.

For winning, the strongest candidate is former Admiral Mike Franken, hands down. He’s already had Senate experience.

It’s worrisome Abby Finkenauer didn’t have a surplus of nomination signatures, and that she burned through 95% of her early successful fundraising.

Well over 90% of House members are re-elected. Finkenauer is not in that percentage. An inability to get reelected in an eastern Iowa district doesn’t bode well for getting elected statewide.

Donald Trump carried 93 of Iowa’s 99 counties. Democrats need a statewide following and party.

Based on my time in Ida County, and in north-central Iowa during my 1974 congressional primary, I believe Franken’s demeanor and ties to the people in smalltown western Iowa will help reach that goal.

Once in Washington, he will immediately enjoy the respect of the other senators.

Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Breaking the Arc Towards Justice

Breaking the Arc Towards Justice
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, May 10, 2022, p. A5

I’ve never met a woman who thought an abortion was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Legally, overturning Roe v. Wade is not about abortion’s pros and cons, life vs. choice. It’s about the Constitution’s grants of protection from government intrusion.

It’s not about our opinions regarding abortion. As the bumper sticker has it, “Opposed to abortion? Don’t have one.” It’s whether a state can constitutionally prevent a woman and her doctor from what they believe best. Roe says “no, that’s unconstitutional.” Justice Samuel Alito says “oh, yes they can.”

This makes it possible for one to be both “opposed to abortion” (as a personal choice) while also opposed to state abortion bans (as a governmental overreach).

Besides constitutional law, Alito’s leaked draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade raises questions about the Court.

Having spent a year as law clerk to Justice Hugo Black, I care about the Court as an institution. I’ve written here before how “politicizing an impartial Court weakens our democracy.” (“High Court Mystique is Shattered,” Feb. 16.)


The sails of the abortion debate are driven by the winds of religion and politics: the official stand of the Catholic church, before and after Roe; the Republican Party’s decades-long efforts. Six of the seven Catholic justices (including Alito) were appointed by Republican presidents G.W. Bush and Donald Trump.

Warranted or not, this multiplies the Court’s public relations challenge in regaining public trust as non-political.

The Court has become the judicial wing of the Republican Party. Alito’s draft opinion in the Dobbs case becomes the final nail in the founders’ hope for a non-political judicial branch.

The unprecedented leak of an opinion? I’m speechless. My fellow law clerks and I lived by commonsense norms. When Bob Woodward wanted to interview me about Justice Black for Bob’s “behind the scenes” book, The Brethren, I refused.

Chief Justice Earl Warren issued the only rule. We played basketball with the Court’s guards in a gym above the courtroom. (Above the Supremes, it was “the highest court in the land”). The Chief said bouncing basketballs during oral arguments was disrupting; please play at other times. We obliged.

I’m unconvinced by Justice Alito’s attempt to justify states’ abortion bans.

We’re left with dozens of questions. Here are a handful.

Will Alito’s opinion be the majority’s? Will revisions, or separate opinions matter?

Will Alito’s rationale repeal other rights? He says not, but he’s already used it in his 2015 Obergefell gay marriage dissent.

How will the decision affect the midterm elections?

If Republicans win both the House and Senate will Senator Mitch McConnell push his national abortion ban proposal? Is it constitutional?

Will Republicans provide for women, especially the poor, adversely impacted socioeconomically by abortion bans?

Will gender equality require a ban on men’s vasectomies and contraceptive purchases (overturning the 1965 Griswold case)?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asserted “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Alito’s opinion reverses that arc -- toward its breaking point.
__________
Nicholas Johnson is the former co-director of the Iowa Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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SOURCES

Alito’s opinion. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Feb. __, 2022 (“opinion of the Court”), https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/read-justice-alito-initial-abortion-opinion-overturn-roe-v-wade-pdf-00029504

Bumper sticker. From memory; and Linda Greenhouse, “Abortion Cases: A Conservative Judicial Agenda?’ New York Times, April 1, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/01/opinion/abortion-supreme-court-judges.html (“The best bumper sticker I’ve ever seen read: ‘Opposed to abortion? Don’t have one.’”)

Roe. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

Justice Black clerk & Supreme Court references. Commonsense norms. Woodward interview request. Basketball above courtroom. Chief Justice’s request. My one-year clerkship (the usual term in those days) ran from the fall of 1959 to the summer of 1960 (“the October 1959 Term”). These items are from memory.

Mystique is Shattered. Nicholas Johnson, “High Court Mystique is Shattered,” The Gazette, February 16, 2022, p. A7

Catholic Church official stand. “Catholic Church and Abortion Politics,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_abortion_politics

Republicans use of abortion issue. Numerous sources; here’s one: M. McKeegan, “The Politics of Abortion: A Historical Perspective,” Womens Health Issues, Fall 1993, National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8274866/

Catholic Justices. “Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States,” 5.2 “Catholic justices,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_the_United_States

Impact of Alito’s Dodd opinion on other rights. In Dodd he says “no.” But in Obergefell (the gay marriage case) he said in his dissent, “’liberty’ under the Due Process Clause should be understood to protect only those rights that are ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’” Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S ____ (June 26, 2015) [blank page number because not in official reports], but available elsewhere, e.g., https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/14-556

Ian Millhiser, “If Roe v. Wade falls, are LGBTQ rights next? Justice Alito is a staunch opponent of LGBTQ rights, but he may not have the votes to turn back the clock.,” Vox, May 6, 2022, https://www.vox.com/23058465/supreme-court-roe-wade-lgbtq-samuel-alito-marriage-equality-obergefell-lawrence

Griswold case. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)

Arc of Justice. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/mlk (“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.)

Sample general sources. Caroline Mala Corbin, “ 8 legal reasons to dislike Justice Alito's draft opinion on abortion; It overrules decades-old precedent to impose conservative justices’ anti-abortion views because they finally have the votes to do so,” THINK, NBC News, May 3, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/roe-v-wade-overturned-supreme-court-abortion-draft-alitos-legal-analys-rcna27205

Charlie Savage, “Draft Opinion Overturning Roe Raises a Question: Are More Precedents Next? The legal reasoning that the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc is considering to end abortion rights could uproot a series of other past rulings that created modern rights,” NYT, May 5, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/05/us/abortion-precedent-alito.html

Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Abortion: A Woman's Private Choice https://scholarship.law.uci.edu/faculty_scholarship/647/

Jennifer Schuessler, “The Fight Over Abortion History; The leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade also takes aim at its version of history, challenging decades of scholarship that argues abortion was not always a crime,” New York Times, May 4, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/04/arts/roe-v-wade-abortion-history.html

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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

What's Up With Rising Inflation?

What's Up With Rising Inflation?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 26, 2022, p. A5

Inflation can be a cruel, cold wind. It bites hardest those at the bottom of the economic ladder, or on fixed income -- especially when political leaders cut benefits. The wealthiest never knew what they were paying for groceries, still don’t know nor care.

All the rest of us need to know about inflation is whether we suddenly have too much month at the end of the money – and, if so, what can we do about it?

We don’t need to understand, let alone try to calculate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index formula: CPIt = Ct/Co * 100. That may produce a number, the percentage increase in the CPI, but we don’t buy the CPI, as if investing in an index fund. We buy from among millions of individual items.

For example, “bread” is one of the CPI products. But there are over 100 types of bread, in various sizes, from different bakeries, stores, cities, days, with very different prices.

That’s why there’s no single “inflation.” There is only your memory of what you paid your grocery store for your family’s favorite bread last summer and what you paid yesterday.

Memory is at the core of the impact of increasing prices on our mood. Some remember last year’s prices. Others can recall prices during their youth. Depending on one’s age that can make an enormous difference.

I can remember, and the BLS reports, when things cost a nickel. An ice cream cone with two generous scoops. An adult’s cup of coffee. A loaf of Wonder bread. Many grocery items were a dime, as were my movie tickets.

My young buddies and I had pennies and occasionally sacrificed one to be flattened on the railroad track. We speculated whether a 50-cent piece might derail a steam engine. But none of us had ever possessed a half-dollar or would have willingly sacrificed one to science.



My first car, a roofless Model A, cost $25. Tuition at the University of Texas was $25. My four-door Texas Model A, with a roof, cost $75. The neighborhood Texaco station charged 19 cents a gallon. [Photo credit:wikimedia commons, public domain, John Margolies.]


During my 1974 congressional primary race my house rent was $40 a month.

Of course, wages increased, too; but without unions they haven’t kept up. It’s virtually impossible to calculate with any precision how much ahead or behind we are from 10, 20 or 50 years ago. My rule of thumb is that most things are now priced at least 20 to 30 times the prices I remember.

Nor is there much we could do even if we knew. Find a job that pays more? Good luck.

Our most expensive purchases are for “time-shifting.” Americans pay $120 billion a year in credit card interest to have things now rather than pay cash later. Sometimes that’s necessary, but not always. (Google “marshmallow experiment” or Steve Martin’s “Don’t Buy Stuff.”)

Hey, how about we pay more attention to who’s financing the politicians we vote for?
_______________
Nicholas Johnson still picks up pennies from sidewalks in Iowa City. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

# # #

SOURCES

Current inflation. “U.S. Inflation Highest Since 1981 as CPI Hits 8.5% in March,” Inflation Calculator, April 12, 2022, https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

BLS CPI. “Consumer Price Index,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/cpi (a source that slices CPI by more ways than even imaginable)

CPI Calculation. “Consumer Price Index (CPI) Calculator, Calculator Academy, Aug. 3, 2021, https://calculator.academy/consumer-price-index-cpi-calculator/ (for formula displayed in column)

“Consumer Price Index: Calculation,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nov. 24, 2020, https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/cpi/calculation.htm

“How to Calculate the CPI and Inflation Rate,” https://www.uvm.edu/~awoolf/classes/spring2005/ec11/calculating_inflation.html#:~:text=To%20find%20the%20CPI%20in,year%2C%20in%20this%20case%201984

Bread. “Bread is among the food items which are widely consumed worldwide. As per the reports suggested by different restaurants, food surveys, and data, more than 100 types of bread are present today, with different types popular among different societies.” “Different Types Of Bread From Around The World You Should Know!” kidadl, Jan. 20, 2022, https://kidadl.com/fun-facts/different-types-of-bread-from-around-the-world-you-should-know

List of recalled prices. These are from memories from late 1930s and WWII believed to be accurate, and consistent with BLS amounts, but not documented.

The BLS reports, for example, from a later time period, “Prices of selected food items, 1947”:
Apples, 12.8 cents/pound
Potatoes, 5.0 cents/pound
Bananas, 15 cents/pound
Flour, 4.8 cents/pound
Rice 18.4 cents/pound
White bread 12.5 cents/pound
Round steak 75.6 cents/pound
Milk, 18.7 cents/quart
Butter, 80.5 cents/pound”
“One hundred years of price change: the Consumer Price Index and the American inflation experience,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/one-hundred-years-of-price-change-the-consumer-price-index-and-the-american-inflation-experience.htm

Inflation decreases wages. Judge Glock, “Inflation Drives Wages Down, Not Up; The ‘wage-price spiral’ is a myth. It’s much easier to raise prices than wages,” Wall Street Journal,” Jan. 31, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/inflation-drives-worker-pay-down-not-up-wage-price-spiral-raises-goods-keynes-friedman-cost-push-fed-11643662537

(“The Labor Department released a report Friday showing that worker pay increased about 4% in one year, the fastest rate in two decades. This led to predictable alarm that the U.S. is facing a “wage-price spiral,” in which higher wages push up prices, which lead to demands for still-higher wages, and so forth. But the wage-price spiral is a false and antiquated economic idea that refuses to die and keeps generating bad policies.

“Wages don’t spiral up during inflation; they spiral down as higher prices eat away paychecks. The dollar amounts on paychecks will rise, but not fast enough for their real value to outpace inflation. The recent stories of wage increases came not long after the government announced prices increased 7% in the past year. A more accurate headline for coverage of Labor’s report last Friday would have been “Real Wages Drop 3%.”

“The reason real wages are dropping is simple. Wages are what economists call “sticky,” meaning they don’t change as fast as other prices do. When inflation comes along, gasoline stations can switch their price signs in an hour and restaurants can adjust their menus in a day, but most employees get a salary bump only once a year. Some unions renegotiate their salaries only every five years.

“The combination of flexible prices and sticky wages also explains why inflation provides a temporary boost for business. John Maynard Keynes observed that inflation tends to increase profits because it creates a greater spread between the prices businesses charged and the wages they paid. As one International Monetary Fund report stated, during an inflation there is a “redistribution of income away from labor” to capital. This explains recent surging business profits.

“We also saw this story play out in the 1970s, when the idea of the wage-price spiral first attracted attention. At the time, many Keynesian economists wanted to blame inflation on anything but the Federal Reserve printing too much money. So they came up with the wage-price spiral, also known as cost-push inflation, which they thought was driving up prices. But they confused nominal and real wages. Even though paychecks were for more dollars, their actual value dropped by almost 20% over the decade, as real profits increased.” . . . )

Decline in unions decreased wages. Alana Semuels, “Fewer Unions, Lower Pay for Everybody; If organized labor were as strong today as it was in the late 1970s, nonunion men without a high-school diploma would be earning 9 percent more, according to a new study,” The Atlantic, Aug. 30, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/union-inequality-wages/497954/

$120 B credit card interest. Ashwin Vasan and Wei Zhang, “Americans Pay $120 Billion in Credit Card Interest and Fees Each Year,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Jan. 19, 2022, https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/americans-pay-120-billion-in-credit-card-interest-and-fees-each-year/

Marshmallow study. “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

Don’t buy stuff. “SNL Transcripts: Steve Martin: 02/04/06: Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford,” SNL Transcripts Tonight, Season 31, Episode 12, https://snltranscripts.jt.org/05/05lbuy.phtml

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